Tuesday, August 05, 2003

The Hidden Christ of Beliefnet Buddhism

I was planning to write an essay that focused exclusively on the issue of essentialist Buddhists on the Beliefnet Buddhism Debate message boards, but I've decided that these Buddhists' essentialism is merely one symptom, among many, of a larger issue: the evil influence of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, Son of the Living God, Second Person of the Holy Trinity (both economic and immanent), homoousios with the Father, and Savior destined to return at some unknown point in the future to kill us all.

Yes, it's the raging Jesus meme.

Sorry if I'm being flippant, but topics like Buddhist essentialism and Buddhists in the grip of the Jesus meme are positively swollen, like a recently kicked scrotum, with humorous potential.

You could ask why a Christian would bother harping on certain Buddhists for being essentialist. First, I'm no longer an essentialist myself. (At this point, I'd say my own metaphysics is thoroughly Buddhist-Taoist, and admits no literal, personal God.) Second, I think it's highly inconsistent for any Buddhist to argue from an essentialist stance, and this point needs to be made publicly.

By now, you're probably trying to reach through your monitor to throttle me, because I haven't explained what "essentialism" is.

It's not that hard to understand. Essentialism is a stance that thinks in terms of essences. Is there a "personness" to people? A catness to cats? A dogness to dogs? A bedness to beds? Do you believe in a human soul-- that changeless thing that is the "real" or "true" you, the kernel of your self? Do you believe the universe (or concepts, religions, etc.) "boils down to" something fundamental, or to a limited set of fundamental elements? Is there a such thing as "true" art?

If yes, then you're an essentialist. This is antithetical to Buddhist metaphysics, whose greatest contribution to world philosophy was and is a determined, systematic, and complete rejection of the notion of essences (cf. my essay on "Violence, Vegetarianism, and Emptiness" for a discussion of the Buddhist notion of emptiness; no need to recap here).

[NB: in academe, essentialism also goes by names like "foundationalism," "reificationism," "metaphysics of presence," and "substantialism." Also note that Buddhism will occasionally employ essentialist-sounding language, but always in the service of the nonessentialist metaphysic.]

Essentialism is one symptom in a constellation of symptoms I've seen in some Beliefnet Buddhists on the Buddhist Debate boards. Here's how I laid it out in a recent post:

...at the risk of having my massive ass roundly kicked, I'll remark that many Buddhist converts from Christianity on these boards strike me as still framing their arguments and having their experiences from very much within a more-than-just-residual Christian framework-- especially among the Buddhists who evince a rather ironic essentialism in their stance.

All the symptoms are there: a belief in the self-completeness of one's own practice, a highly developed us/them mentality (the essentialist trait in a nutshell: "That's not real Buddhism!"), a tendency to speak of one's own path to the denigration of another path, an unwillingness to accept being re-understood by the Other (cf. the very telling "Jesus as Guru" thread), a manifest lack of humility in tone. All traits ascribed to Christians (and not without justification!), but fully present in the enlightened.

Usually the claim is that, unlike the Christians, Buddhists don't proselytize.

Hm. I'd have to think about that.

There are plentiful exceptions on these boards, of course: nonproselytizing, nonessentialist Buddhists abound.

My basic feeling is that Jesus still has these Buddhists by the balls-- yes, even the cradle atheists. Why? Because Judeo-Christian tropes are all-pervasive in American culture. They affect how Americans see themselves, each other, and the world. Certainly there's a missionary aspect to the current political situation, and one of the major issues up for debate-- the question of whether Americans are cultural imperialists-- has as a major source the Christian urge to proselytize. That urge, to the extent that it exists, is not held uniquely by Christian Americans; non-Christian Americans can be just as fervent about the virtues of our culture, and just as adamant about the need to spread the American meme globally. "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations..."

To be clear: I am by no means referring to the majority of Beliefnet Buddhists I've had the privilege of encountering. Most are NOT this way. But enough exhibit strongly Christian (in the negative sense, as indicated in my quoted post) traits to warrant comment. Nor am I really indicting the Buddhists who do exhibit such inconsistencies; after all, we're all hypocritical in our practice, and it should be noted that the essentialism of particular Buddhists is often absent, depending on the topic being discussed.

A common complaint among the Beliefnet Buddhists is that the Christians who enter the Buddhist boards either want to proselytize, or seem intent on deliberately reinterpreting Buddhism into something it simply isn't. It is NOT essentialist for a Buddhist to point out the Buddha's original teachings are free of Christian-style classical theism; this is obvious even from a superficial reading of both Buddhist and Christian scriptures. There are, however, Beliefnet Buddhists who adopt unnecessarily essentialist stances re: whether Buddhism is philosophy or religion, what "religion" means, and what Christianity is.

The most hilarious examples of these tendencies can be seen in a thread called "Mixing Buddhism," which brings out the closet essentialist in quite a few Buddhists. The thread begins with a simple question about whether it's possible for a person to mix Christianity and Buddhism. Some sample posts might help you to see what I mean.

This poster, whom I will call Y, says the following soon after the first post:

Where is the word "Dharma" in the Bible? What Chapters and what versus?

I use word search on KJV and it turns up nothing.

Can you give me specific sentences (versus, stories, sermons, etc.) in the Bible that describe things such as re-birth, karma, "no-self", cause and effect, etc. Anything in the Bible about the NO ALCOHOL precept?

How about the Biblical equivalent of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva who vows to offer refuge to all those living in Hell? In Christianity, non-believers (ie, all non-Christians) are all condemned to an Eternal Hell with no chances of a salvation.

How about the NO KILLING precept, which is extended not just to humans but to all sentient beings such as animals and bugs. The closest you get is THOU SHALT NOT KILL - but look at the killings in the Bible, many of those are ordered or even performed by God Himself. Not very convincing, isn't it?

Poster Y, who posted frequently in this thread, never lets up in his insistence that Christianity is a certain way. When presented with contradictory evidence from actual practicing Christians, Y shrugs and claims that Christian scriptures serve as evidence that these Christians are wrong or deluded. Y's essentialist assumption is that religion, at least for Christians, must boil down to scripture.

What tickles me is that, while I can see a monotheist making a similar argument with a straight face, it is absolutely absurd for a Buddhist to do so. Another example of Y's stubbornness:

Zen stories are not literally ture stories, they are puzzles designed by human teachers to get to a point in the Dharma. The Buddha himself (nor the King of Heavens and any of his divas) had never ordered the killing of a dog.

On the other hand, Biblical stories are supposed to be literally true. For example, read the story of King David who screwed the beautiful wife of his own General and sent him to battlefield to be killed. God responded by killing his new born baby. Yes, King David was saddened by the death of his new born baby, BUT why did God punished him by killing an innocent baby? What kind of Dharma teaching is it? It seems that God loves to punish sinners by killing another individual.

If you say that the stories of the Bible is just stories - how about the cruxification and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Is it literally true or just a story?

Here again, Y assumes he knows how Christians treat their own scriptures, and tries to teach Christians Christianity. Basically, he's constructed a straw man and is debating nothing. But Y was not alone in arguing this way. Here, for example, is a post from someone I'll call T:

Christianity teaches that the crucifiction and ressurrection are literally true.

Buddhism (Zen in particular) has no problem with taking wisdom where one finds it. Many of us who are adamantly "Zen" or "Buddhist" recognize that there are valid ethical teachings in the Christian doctrine and accept them as functional "wisdom." That does not make us Christians, however.

Christians are welcome to take what wisdom they find in Buddhist teachings and use them -- but please, don't think the result is "Buddhsim."

Lemon juice is lemon juice. Lemon juice mixed with water and sugar is lemonade.

The only other thing to consider is that Christianity (according to the New Testament) disallows such "wisdom borrowing." Thus, it is actually Christianity that has the problem with "mixing."

The claim that "Christianity" teaches the crucifixion and resurrection as a literal truth is simply false based on the data. How is Christianity actually lived and practiced in the world? "Christianity" is at least as varied a phenomenon as Buddhism, if not more varied, given its sheer size. Christians come in all shapes and colors and persuasions, and even people sitting next to each other in the pews are not guaranteed to have exactly the same conception of core ideas like God, trinity, Christ, resurrection, miracle, etc. I was surprised to see this claim from T, but his background includes a long and bitter experience with Catholicism and fundamentalism, which may have colored his perception of Christianity as a whole. I can't say I blame him; it's true that most Christians are exclusivist and literalist. But the problem is that the theologically liberal wing of Christianity comprises millions of people; it's not some obscure minority by any means, and T is ignoring this fact in making his claim about what Christianity supposedly is.

Later, T says:

Christianity just flat isn't Buddhism.

I have no problem with this, and actually think it's a legitimate stance to take. It's a direct response to those people who try to turn religions into each other.

We need to be clear about what levels we're operating on, here. In Mahayana Buddhism, a prominent figure is the thinker Nagarjuna, founder of the Madhyamika (Middle Way) School. Nagarjuna propounded the "two truths," the idea that there are conventional truths and there is ultimate truth. For example, in the practical, conventional realm, I know the difference between an apple and an orange. But on the ultimate level, I know that both apple and orange are empty of substance, and they are therefore not fundamentally distinct. All phenomena are in process; being is becoming, and all things relate to each other in a dynamic of interdependent intercausality-- pratitya-samutpada, or dependent co-arising.

When T declares that "Christianity just flat isn't Buddhism," he's stating a conventional truth. The muddle is: how seriously is this truth being taken? If T is blatantly refusing to see that both Christianity and Buddhism are dependently co-arisen phenomena, then he's making an essentialist mistake. I have reason to believe, however, that T, unlike Y, isn't making such a mistake when you view T's two quotes in the larger context of what he's written on the Buddhism boards... but T is, at the very least, flirting with essentialism here (and some of his other posts are downright essentialist in tone and content).

More egregious examples of essentialist thinking in Beliefnet Buddhists. Y again:

I am not saying that there is no common ground between Christianity and Buddhism, but there are vast differences that are not reconcilable.

An analogy is eating Chinese Food and Western Food together. For example, try to eat a hamburger with black bean sauce or add soya sauce to your salad or eat chicken fried rice with salad dressing, it may taste good to somebody, but to most people it tastes aweful.

However, I do not rule out that sometimes it may enchance the taste, such as adding soya sauce to pork chop and then BBQ it.

Obviously, Y doesn't like fusion cuisine. (P'yu-jon is all the rage in Seoul.)

One gentleman, whom I'll call B72, says the following:

Well, let's face it, Spong, Borg, Tillich et al simply do not believe what St. Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and 99% of all Christians have believed for 2000 years. I personally find thier views vastly more congeneial than traditional beliefs, but it's interesting to note that if you do not believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead to sit on the right hand of God, then you are taking the side of the Jews and the Romans. This diluted Christianity is not what sent thousands to martyrdom in the arena. Yes, you can be an atheist and call yourself a Christian -- Tillich proved that -- but what's the point? You can be a socialist and register as a Republican too.

B72 is here referring to Christian thinkers on the liberal fringe. His contention that these thinkers don't represent the majority of Christianity is valid, but his reference to "diluted" Christianity contains an essentialist assumption. The immiscibility of religious traditions, for B72, is already a given, and whether he intends this or not, he is implying that religions (or at least Christianity-- and it's bizarre to isolate it from the wider world) are static and don't evolve. How this is consistent with the process ontology of Buddhism is beyond me.

B72 also says:

The Bible cannot be dharma because its teaching does not have the marks (or seals) of the dharma.

The "three seals" are impermanence (Skt. anitya; Pali anicca), no-self (Skt. anatman; Pali anatta), and nirvana (Skt. nirvana; Pali nibbana). I think that whether the Bible's teaching contains these three seals is open to discussion. A good book on the subject is The Gospel of Mark: A Mahayana Reading, by Dr. John Keenan, an Episcopal priest and Buddhism scholar at Middlebury College, VT. I would further claim that other religions' teachings may also bear the three seals, but I won't elaborate on that point here. Suffice it to note that B72's assertion is grounded firmly in a yes/no dualism and definitional essentialism that brooks no debate as it's phrased. Again, I find this inconsistent with Buddhist thought and practice.

B72 states further on:

Well, I don't mean anything special or different when I use the term. It means that from the Buddhist point of view, there is no God. And for "God" we can use any definition that's close to capturing what the vast majority of Christians, Jews, Moslems, and Hindus have believed.

This is not what all Buddhists would claim, and B72 is neglecting to mention this here. Many Buddhists do agree with B72's contention, but many also adopt a nondualistic position that refuses to view the question of God in simple yes/no terms. To answer either "yes" or "no" to the question "Does God exist?" is, from this Zen viewpoint (a viewpoint that also has roots in philosophical Taoism), untenable.

B72 and others on Beliefnet have repeatedly tried to emphasize that Buddhism is "atheistic" or "nontheistic." On one level, I agree with them (and there is plenty of support for this contention), but the claim of atheism or nontheism also needs to be examined. Whether Buddhists subscribe to an "ultimate reality" depends very much on the Buddhist. Abe Masao, the Zennist who famously dialogued with process theologian John Cobb, was quite comfortable using "Absolute" language in describing his own point of view, and even saw thematic links between the Christian notion of kenosis (Gk., self-emptying) and Buddhist sunyata, thereby establishing a link, albeit tenuous, to theistic thinking. By the same token, the question of whether Buddhism, on the whole, is nontheistic cannot be answered simply. Plenty of Asian Buddhists subscribe to a theistic cosmology, one that admits heaven and hell realms populated by gods, demons, people, animals, and hungry ghosts. Some forms of Buddhism, like folkloric Pure Land, place so much emphasis on a particular Buddha (in this case Amitabha, lord of the Western Paradise) that for all practical purposes the practitioner's belief system is highly theistic: the prayers and petitions serve almost exactly the same role they do in folkloric (and other forms of) Christianity. This also is true for many Buddhists' conception of the Dharmakaya, the cosmic "body of teaching" viewed by some Buddhists (especially in Asia) as a personified form of absolute reality.

What I sense among these Western Buddhists-- in their tone, their beliefs, and their essentialism-- is the hidden Jesus scuttling around their brain. Whether these Buddhists converted from Christianity or started out as atheists (or non-Christian theists), they are campaigning very hard to paint a picture of Buddhism that is unfriendly to Christian attempts at dialogue, or to non-Buddhist attempts at synthesis/syncretism. These Buddhists are reacting, strongly, to the Jesus meme, and are having difficulty getting rid of it. Their combativeness smacks of exactly the same tactics adopted by the Christians they deplore (or merely resent?), and their message board posts prove the extent to which they are slaves to the Jesus meme.

Another Buddhist poster, N, says:

If a Buddhist believes in God, it's more about that they don't understand the basic concepts of Buddhism. They can certainly call themselves whatever they like, though.

Are you beginning to see the pattern? What would N say to the Catholic priests who received inka and became Zen roshis? A roshi is a teacher in a Zen Buddhist tradition. This Catholic priest is, effectively, a Buddhist-- but one who "believes in God." By N's reckoning, this should be impossible.

Even later in the thread (it's 125 posts long as of this writing), the inimitable Y says:

All sinners who do not believe in the existance of God are officially heading to Hell, I do not make this up myself - it is in the Catholic Encyclopeida as published by the Vatican:

[link was provided to the online Catholic Encyclopedia]

Since the Buddha did not believe in the existence of God and therefore accordingly all his followers will be heading towards Hell. Unless you Catholics elect (?) another Pope, this is as official as one can get.

Y's assumption, yet again, is that the written doctrine equals the religion. My contention, which risks its own essentialism, is that there is no religion outside of how it's practiced. While it's ridiculous to deny that scripture and doctrine play important roles in religious traditions, they mean nothing if not enfleshed in the people.

Y says further:

Plonker [another poster] also suggest that I should not take the miracle of turning water into wine literally. That would bring the credibility of the whole Bible into question - which Bible stories are literally true and which are not? How about the virgin birth? cruxification? Resurrection? How about the three wise men coming to see baby Jesus? How about the story that Jesus was born in a Manger and not in Holiday Inn (of those days)? Are such stories mostly true or mostly allegory?

By comparison, all Buddhist sutras begin with the words: "This is what I have heard". Thus stories from the Buddhist sutras are mostly allegory in nature, told by the Buddha to his students during sermon sessions to make Dharma easier to understand. Buddhist Sutras are sort of lecture notes that a modern day University student takes in classes whilst the Bible is supposed to be a record of the life of Jesus.

If Christians do not take most stories in the Bible (especially the life of Jesus) as literally true, than Christianity would fall apart. Jesus would just be a illegitimate child born outside wedlock.

The Bible "is supposed to be"...

Y is hampered in this discussion by a near-complete ignorance of the ins and outs and Christianity, yet is obviously a prisoner of the Jesus meme all the same. Note the stubbornness in the face of evidence to the contrary, the belief in the superiority of his own practice while denigrating others:

Whether you Christians believe in the Virgin Birth, free will, a creator God, original sin, redemption of sin, second coming, resurrection, Trinity, judgement day, etc (the core belief actually) ......,is your problem, not my problem. If you guys don't beleive that Jesus Christ is the only way, that is perfectly fine with me - but than that is not what the Bible says and you have a lot to do.

Obviously, Y doesn't have "a lot to do," because his religion's founder got it all right the first time and transmitted clear, unambiguous teaching. Which of course explains why there are so many schools of Buddhism, some of which exist not in harmony, but in contention.

I'll switch now to the "Jesus as guru" thread, in which a poster proposed that Jesus' and the Buddha's teachings are fundamentally similar (I'm actually not in total agreement with this). Note the defensiveness of Buddhist posters, who evince a bunker mentality quite similar to that of fundamentalist Christians. B72 again, very early on in the thread:

Sheesh. More Jeezus-wheezing. It's not enough that there's one whole, huge religion dedicated to this character, but people insist on trying to drag him into Buddhism, somehow ignoring that the central focus of Jesus's teaching is God and his kingdom, ideas which have no role whatever in Buddhism. I don't know why so many Christians find Buddhism to be an itch they just can't help scratching, but it certainly is annoying that every few days we have to once again try to explain to somebody just how different Buddhism is from anything found in theistic religion, based on Jesus or otherwise.

The original poster, whom I'll call TM, met with some stiff opposition to his original post, but also encountered some quite open-minded Buddhists who had sincere questions about the implications of TM's thought (it's a shame not to quote them here, but I have to keep focus on the essentialist minority). Alas, the relentless naysaying continued, as T says in this thread:

In the end, however, the theism of Christianity, regardless of the rest of the idiosyncracies, places it solidly in opposition to the teachings of Gautama Buddha.

T later utters the straw that breaks TM's back:

Mr. TM- if you want to borrow a cup of Buddhism come on in, but I have no need for Christianity whatsoever, thank you. It contains nothing that seems to be missing.

Here we see a perfect reflection of Christian smugness, the belief that one's own path is self-complete. I would argue that T's comment proves he is still very much a prisoner of his past.

TM's reply is exasperated, and he makes the point I've been trying to make in this essay:

Well, I guess your mind is made up, then, isn't it. You obviously have a perfect understanding of the Dharma and have no need to see it in a different light. The Christians I know who are interested in Buddhism study it because they think that it has much to offer. And they respect it. They purposely keep the "tea cups" at least partially empty. Have you checked yours lately?

You guys...do you know how intolerant you sound? It's like trying to reason with Christian Fundamentalists. Is that the impression you want to make for Buddhism?

I can't see any other explanation that fits. It's the Jesus meme. Has to be. The self-righteousness of some of these Buddhists is incredible, so evangelical Protestant. But quite to the contrary, Korean Buddhists I've encountered here in Seoul have little trouble with God-language, so long as the attempt is made on both sides to keep an open mind and heart. They don't claim, flat out, that God doesn't exist or that Buddhism simply denies God. There is, without doubt, a great deal of suffering caused by Korean fundamentalist Protestants, who do often abuse Buddhists, but my point is that the Beliefnet Buddhists and those Korean fundies have quite a lot in common.

T, who is also a board moderator (and therefore wields some authority) feels threatened by TM, and says:

BTB- Incrementalist proselytizing does become full-tilt proselytizing at a certain point. Just a friendly reminder.

A warning about proselytizing? This struck me as bizarre.

As I read through TM's posts, I saw zero evidence of an attempt to proselytize. (See for yourself; the thread begins here.) I'm really not sure what T was reacting to, but it's all in the service of my thesis. Bunker mentality as evidence of religious insecurity, even after years away from the Church.

T makes a further debatable claim about Buddhism:

Buddhism teaches that anything which one cannot prove experientially cannot be counted on as true -- and thus it is a waste of time to pursue. So we don't usually spend a whole lot of effort on speculative stuff.

Yes, such teaching exists. Buddhism is strongly empirical, and that's one of the things I like about it. But "Buddhism," taken in its totality, includes a whole magical, theistic, folkloric wing that these Western Buddhists would probably judge, essentialistically (!!), as "not REAL Buddhism." The Buddhist practitioners who petition the very personal Amitabha in Taiwan, for example, include in their magical worldview much that simply can't be proven experientially. Quite a few, like a Taiwanese woman I know, are folkloric Buddhist but have no working knowledge of the so-called "basics," such as the Four Noble Truths. This woman, after hearing my lecture on the philosophical underpinnings of Buddhism, came up to me afterward and said, "You know, I didn't recognize anything of Buddhism in what you talked about." Should I have written her off as "not a real Buddhist"? It's for this reason that I roll my eyes when I hear Western Buddhists declare, with the blind assuredness of a Holy Roller, "Buddhism is A and not B." My suggestion: you need to go meet your "fellow" practitioners across the Pacific. Some will resemble you; many won't. You're creating Buddhism in your own image and not acknowledging this.

Also: if a Buddhist were to argue that Buddhist "experiential proof" (e.g., experiencing the power of telepathy, a power some Tibetan lamas [and other Buddhists] claim to have) is not the same as "proof" in a scientific empirical sense, I would have to ask why these same Buddhists would then deny a traditional Christian's contention that his/her "personal relationship with God/Jesus" is any LESS "experiential proof" of the reality of God/Jesus. The routine anti-Christian claim is that Christianity is "propositional belief" (i.e., you have to believe the cognitive content of a set of propositions, such as "Jesus is the unique Savior"), while Buddhism is empirical. This ignores the fact that many Christians base their faith on experiences they've had-- radical or mundane.

A point is made toward the end of the "Jesus as guru" thread about how civil the discussion was, especially when compared to what usually appears in the Christian threads. Yes, I'd have to agree. A quick random sample from Beliefnet's Evangelical Christianity Debate board-- post #1 of a thread called "Gandhi was a lost sinner...":

As lost as Hitler or Stalin.Our works can not earn us heaven. Only faith in the Risen Christ,and His work through us. And today we remember Him,who in His body,bore our sins:

"He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities."

God have mercy on our wretched souls....

The thread is 276 posts long. It contains a lot of scripture-quoting, a lot of vitriol (and not all of it from the religious fundies). It's everything the essentialist (and other) Buddhists accuse the Christians of. It is also, however, quite similar in tone to what you may find in the Buddhism Debate boards, even if those boards aren't as openly confrontational.

While I find the Jesus Buddhists somewhat inconsistent, I don't mean to imply anything deeper about them. I have no insight into what these people are like in person; such things are notoriously hard to determine from online writing. My only point is that I see the Jesus meme running rampant in these folks, and I think the posts I quoted in this essay provide strong evidence of that contention. This is only a tentative claim, however; one could, for example, argue that the essentialist Buddhists are simply acting like anyone else on a cyber message board. In other words, their conduct may have nothing to do with a Jesus meme, and everything to do with message board psychology.

But that's not what I think. I am not witnessing generic online assholery; the behavior is too specific, despite the thousands of ways in which one could be an asshole. One thread on the Buddhism Debate board, devoted to finding out who among the Buddhists is a convert and who isn't, has, to date, uncovered NO cradle Buddhists on Beliefnet. While some of these Buddhists, like T, have been living and breathing the dharma for decades, they nevertheless evince attitudes and actions that seem rooted in a Judeo-Christian past, or they show the extent to which the "ambient" Jesus meme has sunk into their consciousness, even if they began as non-Christians. As a result, I submit (with admittedly shaky evidence) that these folks may be wearing a thoroughly Buddhist hat... but it's a bit off-kilter.


Doug said...

Excellent post, and I am an ex-Beliefnet poster myself (under the same name). I noticed this same trend, but could never put a face or name to it. Whatever it was, I gave up on Beliefnet a while ago, and haven't found much better on E-sangha.

Actually, I have noticed this same Jesus meme in myself very often, but my wife, whose Japanese has a way of cutting through that with little witticisms and such. I found that I would get hung up (and still do) on which is the right sect/teaching within Buddhism and what isn't. My wife would just tell me I am thinking too much, and she's right. :p

When I went with her to Japan, I found that things just "breathed" Buddhism in a way totally different in the West. I think this is due to lack of Western religious influence, but also because Buddhism has been grounded there way longer than in the US (which can at best say 50-100 years of Buddhist tradition).

The best example I can think of was in a Japanese Buddhist cemetery where I saw a collection of statues off by themselves. My wife explained that these were people who had no ancestors to care for them, so other people could take care of their graves. For some reason, that struck me really deeply at the time, and never left. I can just see now Western Buddhists saying "oh no, that's idol worship or superstition". Hell, I've said it sometimes, but I know I am wrong. It's just old habits really die hard sometimes. :)

Anyways, great post and I can honestly say I read the whole thing. I'd love to know who T and Y are, but I have a hunch or two. >:) Take care!

Kevin Kim said...

This reply is coming three years too late, but I wanted to say that quite a few of the B'net Buddhists were fine folks, too. This post, if read alone and out of context, might give people the impression that B'net is full of jerks. Not so. There are a few jerks there, but that's no different from what you'll find when you take a cross-section of any large online community.